Something I’m passionate about is where we get our food from. This is something that is especially true regardless of your location on this globe, but that gets increasingly difficult in certain places; some of which might surprise you.
Covered in this blog
- The facts of hunger and "food deserts"
- How crop rotation, or lack of, causes a loss of nutrients in our fruit and vegetables
- The science behind our fruit and vegetables being less nutrient dense
- How to ensure you get more nutrients in your fruit and vegetables
Some facts about hunger and "food deserts"
There are 690,000,000 people (8.9% of the human population - 2018/19) who Action Against Hunger estimate go hungry every day, an astonishing 23,500,000 people in the U.S. (7.6% of the US population - 2010) live in "food deserts", meaning that they live more than one mile from a supermarket in urban or suburban areas and more than 10 miles from a supermarket in rural areas, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Somewhat more worryingly, even if you don’t live in a “food desert”, you still might not have access to nutrient dense fruit and vegetables.
Why aren’t our fruit and vegetables nutrient dense?
As the title of this post suggests, crop rotation, or perhaps lack of, can play a large role in the loss in nutrients in our fruit and vegetables.
“Crop rotation is the practice of planting different crops sequentially on the same plot of land to improve soil health, optimize nutrients in the soil, and combat pest and weed pressure.
For example, say a farmer has planted a field of corn. When the corn harvest is finished, he might plant beans, since corn consumes a lot of nitrogen and beans return nitrogen to the soil.
A simple rotation might involve two or three crops, and complex rotations might incorporate a dozen or more.” Rodale Institute.
Why does this matter? To combat the loss in soil nutrients and an increase in pests, farmers have to use increasingly larger amounts of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Alarmingly, despite an increase in chemicals added to our crops, the science suggests we are far from the same nutrients we had within the last century...
The science showing loss of nutrients in our fruit and vegetables
One of the earlier studies to break news of this trend was published in 2004 by Donald Davis. Entitled Changes in USDA food composition data for 43 garden crops, 1950 to 1999, the paper shows the results of the density of 43 garden crops for 13 nutrients and how the data changed between 1950 and 1999. The results show that for six nutrients—protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (Vitamin B2), and ascorbic acid (Vitamin C)—the decline was between 6% (for protein) and 38% (for riboflavin).
A British Food Journal study on nutrient density from 1930 to 1980 found that in 20 different vegetables the average potassium content had dropped 14%, calcium content 19%, and iron content 22%. In general, the comparison of mineral content over this period shows significant reductions in magnesium, iron, copper, and potassium in fruit—and calcium, magnesium, copper, and sodium in vegetables.
Another study by Kushi Institute uncovered the same alarming trend. When analysing nutrient levels in food based on USDA data from 1975 to 1997, it was found that Vitamin A levels had decreased 21%, calcium levels 27%, Vitamin C levels 30%, and iron levels 37%.
One more study, reported by the Toronto Globe and Mail in 2002, analysed food tables prepared by scientists between 1951 and 1999. It showed marked decreases in the nutrient levels in fruits and vegetables bought in Canadian supermarkets, and showed that potatoes had lost 100 percent of their Vitamin A and 57 percent of their Vitamin C, and even concluded that today’s consumers would have to eat eight oranges to get the same amount of Vitamin A that their grandparents gained from eating one orange.
How to ensure we get enough nutrients from fruit and vegetables
If you are going to continue to buy from a supermarket, the first is to abandon the obsolete “5-a-day” recommendation that was introduced nearly twenty years ago and GO BIG. As you can see from the studies above, you need more. Given you are constantly stressing your body with training, you need to GO REALLY BIG.
If you can make ‘5-a-meal’, you will be flooding your body with enough micronutrients. One portion is about the size of your fist and aim to eat a variety of colours as these typically cover all the vitamins and minerals your body needs.
Forget chemical or man-made supplements, very little evidence exists to show that any of these work. If you must supplement with powders to boost your nutrient intake, ensure they are harvested well, minimally processed, and actually plant based.
If you’re fortunate enough to grow your own, this would be the best way to get nutrient rich food. You control the soil quality, can test it and can ensure that you grow only the best food. Don’t think you have the space? Check out aeroponic gardens; a plant-cultivation technique in which the roots hang suspended in the air while nutrient solution is delivered to them in the form of a fine mist or via a free falling water solution.
If that’s not possible, then buy local. Supporting your local farmers is a great way to support your local community and you have an opportunity to ask the farmer about their cultivation methods. You will no doubt be also getting fruit and vegetables that are picked closer to having peak nutrient density; no surprises here that this is when the produce is ripe.
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